Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.





Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

PROMOTING CHANGE OR MORE DANGEROUS DOGS ACTS BUT DON`T BLAME US

Transform Justice is a lobby organisation funded philanthropically and run on a tight budget by a former magistrate who left the judiciary many years ago.  Its purpose is:-

"Transform Justice was set up in 2012 by Penelope Gibbs, a former magistrate who had worked (successfully) to reduce child and youth imprisonment in the UK. The charity will help create a better justice system in the UK, a system which is fairer, more open, more humane and more effective. Transform Justice will enhance the system through promoting change – by generating research and evidence to show how the system works and how it could be improved, and by persuading the public to support those changes and practitioners and politicians to make them".

These are laudable aims by any account and are so astutely worded that one would be a fool to simply argue against them.  "Transform Justice will enhance the system through promoting change". The question to be put is what kind of change.  Below are a few quotes on "change". 


Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) Thirty-fifth President of the USA
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) Preeminent leader of Indian nationalism.
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) English Naturalist
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
James Baldwin (1924-1987) African-American writer.
To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.
Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British politician.
You can't expect to meet the challenges of today with yesterday's tools and expect to be in business tomorrow.
Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) Irish writer.
When it becomes more difficult to suffer than change -- then you will change.
To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly
Henri Bergson (1859-1941) French philosopher.
When you're finished changing, you're finished.
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist and philosopher.

Generally speaking those who oppose change are  history`s losers.  It is the quality of change that makes for a better world or a better life.  And so it is with legislation.  The Dangerous Dogs Act  1991 is considered by many to have been a change in the law so ill thought out that it created as many problems (or more) than it solved.  The common term used in such circumstances is the law of unintended consequences.  

Recently  Transform Justice posed the question; "Can we curb our addiction to the short prison sentence?"  Nowhere in the piece is the word magistrate written and this is rather strange.  Nowhere are statistics quoted.  An extract is taken from Sentencing Council`s "Consultation on draft guideline for Imposition of Community & Custodial sentences"..........  "suspended sentences are being imposed as a more severe form of community order where the offending has not crossed the custody threshold."  This is indeed disingenuous and unworthy of the authors and TR.  Within the consultation are listed the clearly defined steps sentencers must employ before the imposition of custody and the basic first hurdle is that custody is the only option its threshold having been breached.  From my own experience it is new J.P.s and the probation officers  who write pre sentence reports who often do not understand this.  I have lost count of the number of times I personally, a single J.P., have told probation after reading a PSR sentencing option which goes from recommending a community order to a suspended custody order that there must be a clear breach of the threshold before that option can have validity.  Speaking from the position of magistrates if they are unaware that Suspended Sentence Orders are being imposed against defined structural decision making, the blame must fall at the feet of their legal advisors and those who design training and/or appraisers` courses.  

On short sentences whether or not suspended there is a clear difference between those imposed at magistrates court or at crown court.  By the very structure of our system they are used with much greater frequency in the former where in 2014 73,993 were imposed [up to 6 months] of which 30,058 (40.6%) were suspended. At crown court there were 9,227 sentences up to 6 months and a total out of all crown court sentences of 22,921 suspended. Of these SSOs no record is available of their length.  Another surprising omission from government statistics is the total number of breaches of SSOs  and their consequences.  To argue against short custodial sentences which are suspended without knowledge of the consequences of their being breached is myopic indeed. 

There are only two consequences of the raising of the minimum custodial sentence to 12 months as some would wish; either all boats in the water would rise on the rising tide or the safety of the public and the concept of punishment per se would be at risk.  The decimation of a national probation service, the unavailability of legal aid,  the disgrace of our prison system, the continual pressure on budget of our whole judicial system including enforcement of all kinds.......police, border agency etc are such that any tinkering with the current processes is liable to have far reaching consequences; some unpredictable.   But what do politicians care?  The next election is their priority and if our legal and judicial system is showing signs of collapse blame the Opposition or the EU or multi national tax evaders or immigrants or benefit scroungers or dangerous dogs but don`t blame us.

Friday, 27 May 2016

JUDICIAL OBSERVATIONS

Within the legal world it is widely known that the numbers of  magistrates have fallen dramatically in the last few years.  This decline has been inevitable.  One does not have to have had the abilities of a Nostradamus or the resources of Channel 4 "Dispatches" to have predicted this radical change to the way in which this and the previous government viewed the institution.   Eight years ago there were just a little under 30,000 active J.P.s; today they number fewer than 20,000. The reasons for the decline are the reduction in cases brought to the lower courts, the closure of about a third  of court buildings and the  resulting difficulties of J.P.s travel arrangements, the deliberate employment of increasing numbers of professional District Judges(M.C.), the skewed age profile of the magistracy and to a lesser extent the resignation of magistrates owing to their opposition to the previous regime`s removal of the level legal playing field for the poorer in our society by the restrictions on legal aid and the imposition of non means tested court charges.   I cannot recollect publication of the numbers of resignations prior to the announcement earlier this week.  It seems that this is going to be a bumper year where J.P.s for whatever reasons have shown two fingers to an appointment which I`m certain they were proud and pleased to have originally accepted. Perhaps the damning verdict of the The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) earlier this week that the criminal justice system is near breaking point is connected to the disillusionment of former colleagues.  When the financial resources to a system are reduced to the bare bones  for functionality there cannot be any surprise when that system collapses under the minimum disturbance to its already failing processes. Those who have been shouting "wolf" for the last decade have been vindicated in their pessimism.  It is hard to see there is a way back for what used to be a the most highly respected justice system in the world.  We are all the poorer individually, nationally and internationally for that. 

But all is not doom and gloom for errant judicial office holders.  According to a statement from the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) instead of being kicked out for actions which might until now have been deemed incompatible  for a  judge or magistrate with expulsion  being the result it seems that a suspended sentence might now be considered the  appropriate sanction.  

JCIO Message:
“Following advice from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) legal team, we are informing all parties involved with the judicial conduct process of a change in advice regarding the use of suspension as a disciplinary sanction.
The Lord Chancellor’s (LC) and Lord Chief Justice’s (LCJ) disciplinary powers are set out in Section 108 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.    Previously, we have operated on the basis that the LCJ can suspend a judicial office holder as a sanction, with the agreement of the LC, as an option for any action that constitutes serious misconduct, but may not warrant removal from judicial office.  This was on the basis of reading 108 5 c) of the Act as a stand alone criteria, giving the LC and LCJ the ability to suspend a judicial office holder for the purpose of maintaining confidence in the judiciary.
However, in light of advice given on an ongoing case, the MoJ legal team have looked at this provision and have raised a concern about how suspension is currently being applied as a sanction.  Their interpretation of the disciplinary powers set out in Section 108, in accordance with the parliamentary counsel’s explanatory notes, is that the suspension can only be issued in a specific set of circumstances.  They have explained that S 108 5) needs to be read as a cumulative set of circumstances and 108 5 c) cannot be relied upon separately to issue suspension as a sanction in any circumstances outside those listed in this section.  The explanatory notes for this section state:
Section 108: Disciplinary Powers
  1. Section 108 will form the basis of a disciplinary system in relation to senior judicial office holders in England and Wales and the holders of offices listed in Schedule 14. In accordance with the section the Lord Chancellor may only exercise his statutory powers to remove judicial office holders in accordance with prescribed procedures (which are defined by section 122 as procedures prescribed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor in regulations made under section 115 or rules made under section 117). Following the formal disciplinary process the Lord Chief Justice may formally advise or formally warn or reprimand, a judicial office holder, but only in accordance with prescribed procedures and with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. As provided in subsection (3) this does not affect the ability of the Lord Chief Justice to speak informally to any judge about any matter of concern, or to issue general advice or warnings to the judiciary.
  2. The Lord Chief Justice may also, with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor, suspend a judicial office holder from exercising the functions of his office if the office holder is subject to criminal proceedings; is serving a sentence for a criminal offence; is subject to disciplinary proceedings following a conviction; or if, following a criminal conviction, it has been decided not to remove the judicial office holder from office, but the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor agree that a period of suspension is required in order to maintain confidence in the judiciary. Senior judges may be suspended during proceedings for an Address in Parliament to remove them from office. Office holders who are listed in Schedule 14 may be suspended during criminal or disciplinary investigations, prior to any conviction.
This advice has no impact on the process for interim suspension pending the outcome of an investigation. 
The MoJ legal will continue looking at this matter and advise us of any implications this may have in going forward.  I will be in touch as soon as we have any more advice.
End of JCIO Message

Perhaps we shall soon have appointed judicial licensing officers to oversee their clients during their period of rehabilitation.   

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A LITTLE OFF TOPIC WITH THE E.U.

Down to earth now from the surrealistic event that many holidays are especially those with funny money and unbearably hot temperatures.  Flying over the same area on the very morning when  another plane was blown out of the sky was not at all comfortable.  This blog by its very purpose has touched on political points only when matters of the application of justice and associated considerations have been applicable. This morning after the holiday nights before, I had intended focussing on the school attendance appeal at the high court; a topic on which I assume every J.P. in the country has had experience.  But that was until I read of the E.U. by way of the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker`s decision to invoke the rule of law mechanism to override the decision of a nation`s parliament.  There will be those who comment that extreme right wing parliamentary decisions have no place in any E.U. country.  But wasn`t the whole European concept to ensure that cataclysmic right wing nationalism of the 1930s could never be repeated?  

Nationalism is part of the bedrock of all nation states.  It could be argued that attempts to suppress such ideologies have been shown to be futile when the authoritarianism that imposed the suppression was weakened. The collapse of the USSR and the fragmentation of   the former Jugoslavia   are just two examples. The resulting conflicts were disastrous.  

Like the steam from a boiling kettle finding an outlet in the spout or the power derived from steam engines large and small being usefully directed the phrase "let off steam" has become a pithy way of describing  excess to be dissipated  as eg the parliamentary assemblies in Scotland and Wales have, so far, allowed their civil societies to function with those for or against full independence being able to join together co-operatively.  

It`s all very well for Mr Junckers to spit fire and brimstone at Poland and Austria but if Marine Le Pen becomes the next French president I doubt she would bend to his tirades. Nationalism is part of the living breathing nation state.  It functions beneath the surface everywhere and is kept under control by democratically elected governments. By attempting to throttle it the E.U. has presided over its biggest increase in popularity  all over Europe since 1945.  For that single reason I will be voting OUT on June 23rd.    

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

THE DISGRACE OF A MANCHESTER POLICE CHIEF`S APOLOGY

During the height of The Troubles Manchester was the scene of a horrific IRA attack.  Thankfully mainland atrocities perpetrated by adherents to Irish nationalism are historic now and for the foreseeable future.  The situation with Islamist terrorism in the UK has, sadly, not yet peaked and various government departments have made this abundantly clear in their arguments for increased intrusion into electronic data monitoring to be included in the so called snoopers` charter. Therefore when an exercise in police response to a full scale terrorist attack in that city was designed it was patently obvious to all involved that the "terrrorists" would be inspired as were those last year in Paris by their interpretation of Islam....i.e. they would be referred to as Islamists and not Muslims.  In order to provide as much realism as possible to this simulated situation the "terrorists" were instructed to shout the exaltation  widely used in such actual suicide attacks not just in Paris but in Mumbai, Tunisia, Jerusalem, California, Nairobi and elsewhere....... "Allahu Akbar".  If one thought that political correctness itself was approaching or past its sell by date one would have been very wrong.  Twitter activists and others presumably objected to the stereotyping of the attackers as Islamists and have persuaded Manchester Police to apologise.

This I find intolerable.  One tweet was as follows

 CommunitySafetyForum ‎@CSFUK

This sort of thing panders to stereotypes and further divides us. It will increase anti-Muslim hate crime. https://twitter.com/siemaiqbal/status/729940662808907776 

Monday, 9 May 2016

ISLINGTON COUNCIL BLAMES MAGISTRATES FOR CRIME

The relevance of the lay magistracy in the 21st century has been questioned by many legally and not so legally orientated personel and organisations for many years. Indeed towards the end of the last century as a fairly new Justice of the Peace I replied to an article in The Times by a Robert McFarland who had been quoted by a House of Commons Standing Committee discussing "Draft Maximum Number of Stipendiary Magistrates Order 1999" during which and I quote, "The Chairman: Order. We should stick strictly to the subject of the increase of stipendiary magistrates from 50 to 56." 
How times change! But I digress. Amongst other exchanges within the committee on that day was,

" An interesting article appeared in The Times on 9 November 1999, entitled ``Time to lay off lay magistrates''. The article was written by Robert McFarland, who was a member of the Glidewell inquiry into the Crown Prosecution Service. The article presumed, directly and by implication, that the lay magistracy was not democratic or representative, and that it was expensive and ineffective.  
  
My reply to that original article is copied below:- (apologies for magnification but easily read with "magnifier")

All this demonstrates that the lay magistracy has long been considered by many of the supposedly great and good to be an irrelevance to a modern functioning of summary justice. 

An example of such thinking is that of Islington Borough Council in London or rather those responsible for its recently published Scrutiny Committee Report.  Unsuprisingly there was considerable reaction to the Report in local media. And what features in the headline?.......crititicism of the local bench of lay magistrates. When it`s convenient the media often forgets that perhaps 20%-30% of all cases have a District Judge presiding.  Nevertheless on p4 of the Report it can be noted that not a single individual from the local judicial area was invited to give evidence.......not a justices` clerk or his/her deputy, not a bench chairman, not a District Judge.  But take a look again at the headline in the local paper....

"Fears young thieves and drug dealers are getting an easy ride from Islington magistrates"

This form of insideous undermining of magistrates is so common as to be ignored by most.  But like the Chinese water torture so called it can have a destablising and disturbing effect on local justices of the peace.  Of course only Islington Council can know why there was no request for a magistrate or court official to offer evidence or opinion or maybe attendance was rejected by those asked.  Perhaps appropriate people can re-think or if there were no such request make their opinions known to Islington.   
 

Friday, 6 May 2016

NORTHUMBRIA CONSTABULARY`S HOUSE OF CARDS

Last Friday I offered my opinion on what actions should take place to rid all our police forces of the rottenness within.  And let there be no doubt that the whole barrel is rotten.  A few days ago the decades old whisperings about South Yorkshire  police brutality during the miners` strike became audible even to the hard of hearing, political or otherwise.  Now it truly is beginning to resemble Sid James, Kenneth Williams et al and Carry on Constable with the revelations in Northumbria Constabulary of the extra marital internecine goings on involving a chief constable, two of his deputies, his P.A. and her cuckold superintendent husband.  But what brings this truly extraordinary testosterone fuelled tale into focus is the alleged cover up being exposed and as with all cover ups it`s the exposure of such which brings down the house of cards.  

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

MCKENZIE FRIENDLESS

Earlier this year on 12th January I commented unfavourably on McKenzie Friends. The Law Society Gazette has brought this topic once again to the attention of readers........and about time too. The MOJ, if it had its ear to the ground which apparently it hasn`t,  would have instructed  one of its minions in the judiciary to offer an opinion or even a direction on the subject but it has not.  With availability of legal aid being limited to an increasingly reduced number of defendants no doubt said ministry considers that any group however ill prepared for the task of  representation of alleged offenders is to be welcomed whatever its shortcomings if it is cheap enough and doesn`t affect its budget.  

We have seen this approach so many times it is repetitive to list.  Suffice to say it is a matter of some urgency that those involved are subject to regulation. The readers` comments are as  informative as the article.